By – Mike Bezek
A day we never thought would come was hoist upon us without notice, a legend seemingly lost to the tides of time was wading closer to the shore. Small whispers around the internet of its return escalated into shouts as GOG.com, with the help of Night Dive, finally obtained the distribution rights to System Shock 2 from the clutches an obscure law firm. It was not but a week ago whole recording an episode of TPG Cast that we chatted about the snafu that Looking Glass’ legendary title seemed to infinitely tumbling through. It was the the point where the only economical substitute to finding a legitimate copy was to download from a torrent site, which is something I would rather not subject SHODAN to, as ironic as it would be.
Time has not been kind to the once immersive world of humaneque cyborgs and AI’s bent of assimilating with human flesh. Thankfully, a dedicated modding scene has provided a copious amount of visual modifications to bedazzle this ugly duckling. While this version of the game is sold as v2.4, an update that was released only a few months ago, there is plenty more work to be done. I scouted the web and forums to compile a list of essential mods to bring System Shock 2 back to life. How about we get started?
It’s almost criminally easy to install mods. You simply extract all ZIP files into the DataPermanentMods folder and they are ready to go, no questions asked. If you are not sure how to navigate there, here is the pathway for beginners (Windows 7): Click “Computer” in the Start menu > Select the hard drive you installed System Shock 2 on (most likely “C”) > GOG Games > System Shock 2 > DataPermanentMods. You should now be looking at an empty folder, but not for long. Modifications for System Shock 2 have been around for the better part of a decade, and the torrents containing the files are very active due to the re-release. Lets start with a simple one:
This provides full redesigns of major weapons found in the game. The original models were rather unappealing and very pixellated, this provides very nice alternatives without sacrificing the original design. You will have to download the files separately and extract them to the DataPermanentMods folder. Now that you’ve updated a few smaller elements, let’s go ahead and give this relic a facelift.
The definitive modification that every player should have installed before embarking on their journey, hands down. SHTUP takes almost every visual polygonal element in the game and breathes life into them. Logos and computer screens suffered from heavy pixellation which led to some very blurry visuals; SHTUP addresses this and many, many other visual shortcomings in a bevy of improvements. While there are still some persistent cut-in and anti-aliasing issues on certain models, this is by far the most important improvement to the original game.
Not to be confused with the arcade term, SHMUP retools the original soundtrack into a high quality musical experience. The haunting score is immensely important in crafting the horrifying environment, so installing this mod is paramount to get the most out of your experience.
The original models for static and living entities lacked proper eyes due to spheres being too difficult and costly to model. The Rebirth mod rectifies this situation by providing detail to all aspects of the models, including the human corpses that previously sported a “vampire zombie” look. Also, monkeys look better, always a plus.
Now that you have the essentials, here are some extras that will spruce up your experience a bit:
- Vurt’s Flora Overhaul – Complete remodel of all plant life.
- Vurt’s System Shock 2 Goo - Makes all “goo substances” actually look gooey.
- Vurt’s SS2 Water – Smoother, more realistic water textures.
Now for the more technical bit. You may notice that on higher resolutions, the UI is very small due to it scaling correctly with the screen. This makes for a difficult experience as most text will become minuscule on a 1920×1080 display. In order to rectify this, head back into your System Shock 2 folder and find a file named, “cam_eft.cfg“ and open it with Notepad. Before you make any changes, save a copy of the original file to your desktop in case something goes wrong and you need to restore it. Now, you will want to find the line:
;d3d_disp_scaled_2d_overlay 640 480
First, remove the semicolon, then change the integer value to whatever resolution you use (i.e. 1920×1080). Save the document, close it, and open SS2 to see if the UI has scaled appropriately. Personally, I was forced to use the integer value of 1080 768 to make the UI scale correctly on my 1920×1080 display. It may take a bit of trial of error in order to make this work, but it’s worth it.
There you have it, after about 15 minutes work, you have a game released 14 years ago that looks and feels worlds better. If you are experiencing issues implementing mods or editing the .cfg file, head over to the System Shock 2 Mod Forums to do a little research. Now get out there and have some fun, you pathetic human.
(Credit to Reddit user joshykins and the System Shock 2 modding community for providing a wealth of knowledge and support)